February 12, 2014
Investing in UK Agronomy with Growing Confidence
Food crop production in the UK has better opportunities for growth and development than almost anywhere in Europe; exciting agronomy-led opportunities which we need to seize with both hands in a determined way with the right strategic investment.
This was the upbeat assessment of current arable industry prospects by the chief executive of Agrii parent, Origin Enterprises, Tom O’Mahony at the agronomy company’s Northern Farming Conference at Bishop Burton College last week (February 7).
Speaking to more than 500 growers, crop advisers and specialists attending this year’s event, he stressed that UK farming was well-placed to take advantage of growing world affluence and food demand through sustainable, research-based productivity improvements.
“We have to accept that seasonal production and market challenges are an inevitable part of farming,” he stressed. “And these days we have to add the extra challenges of a progressive decline in agrochemical innovation, loss of valuable chemistry and increasing regulation as well as CAP reform.
“Looking beyond these, however, we see huge strategic opportunities for UK farming and agribusiness in general and crop production, in particular. Not least for its long heritage and reputation as a quality food producer, excellent access to global markets, track-record of innovative research adoption and well-proven resilience and dynamism.”
This thinking has informed Origin Enterprises’ development of Agrii from its strong Masstock, Dalgety, CSC and UAP roots with a carefully structured additional £20 million R&D investment programme. Through it the business aims to provide its 300-plus field specialists with agri-intelligence resources second-to-none in helping arable producers overcome the most important knowledge gaps limiting crop productivity and profitability.
As part of this programme Mr O’Mahony announced a six-fold expansion of Agrii research and development across northern England and Scotland to well over 6000 trial plots in the current season under northern R&D manager, Jim Carswell, working from two new technical centres – the first under construction at Bishop Burton and the second to be unveiled later in the year in Scotland.
In addition to hosting the new Agrii northern England technical centre, he explained that the partnership with Bishop Burton forms part of the structured technical training and development programme put in place to develop and inspire the rapid increase in young agronomists and advisers being attracted to the business.
“At the same, it and our increasingly close relationships with other leading centres of educational and research excellence are designed to encourage and nurture the young farming ideas and enthusiasm at all levels we see as vital to UK farming’s exciting future,” he pointed out.
“As an industry, we know 15-20 t/ha should be an achievable target for UK wheat production. Equally, we appreciate how much less vulnerable cereal and oilseed rape production needs to be to climatic variability and weed, disease and pest pressures. And we understand the huge potential precision farming technologies offer for improving crop productivity, profitability and sustainability.
“We see Agrii’s role as providing growers with the most effective products and systems and the most appropriate advice to make the most of them by harnessing the latest research-based understanding.”
Tom O’Mahony has no doubt that future crop production progress lies more in novel genetics and improved agronomic regimes than new agro-chemistry. He regards the scale and research-based focus of Agrii as essential in identifying the best of these, making them practicable for UK growers and bringing them to the market in ways that offer the greatest immediate and lasting benefits.
“Our well-timed and carefully-focussed investment will be bringing forward an increasing range new technologies, products and approaches that growers can rely on to address the challenges they face and make the most of the many opportunities they have with the support of the best-informed advice in the business,” he concluded. “Despite the current short-term challenges, we are hugely excited by the prospects for UK farming and the leading role we shall be playing in turning them into reality in the years ahead.”